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Is T&T immune from Spring flu?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The “Arab Spring”, so named by western countries then snuggly ensconced in their kingdoms assured that political reform was an issue for despotic regimes of the Middle East, continues to spread to all corners of the world irrespective of ideological form and organisational structure. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who spent eight years as President before making a strategic exit to the job he now holds, is facing the toughest opposition since coming to power on a popular wave of support 12 years ago. The opposition comes in the run-up to the March presidential elections when Putin expects to get another turn in the top office. The protests have come in response to what are generally believed to be questionable parliamentary elections in early December. The protestors are certain that the elections were rigged to favour Putin’s All Russia People’s Front. The Putin Party, notwithstanding the claims of rigging, was only able to gain marginally below 50 per cent of the vote. This figure is considerably reduced from the 64 per cent of the 2007 elections. When Russia was part of the Soviet Union, the outcome for the winning communist leader was of the order of 98 per cent.


Following a five thousand person demonstration just after the election, a crowd amounting to somewhere between the 30,000 estimate of the police (sure to be conservative) and the 120,000 projected by the leaders of the demonstration (certain to have been exaggerated) gathered on Christmas Eve. Major among the slogans on the streets: “Putin must go,” “We have the power” and an insistence there must be a re-run of the parliamentary poll. Putin will, of course, have none of it as he insisted that the elections are over and the Parliament is in place. However, unlike his insulting remarks after the first protest demonstration, the former Russian president seems to be taking the protestors seriously. His first response was to liken the white flags of the protestors to limp condoms. He has now moved to saying that the protestors lack direction and are without a programme. But he has gone as far as suggesting that he would be prepared to meet with his opponents on the internet. With respect to placing a programme, the Putin observation has a measure of legitimacy. There is no discernible leadership among the groups. And there is no particular ideological current running through the protests. The protestors have risen up spontaneously; tired as they say they are of corruption and manipulation in the Government. They are particularly fed-up of what they see as Putin’s dishonesty. One emerging leader has called the ruling party a gang of “thieves and liars”.  


With the presidential election due in less than three months, politics will remain on the front burner in Moscow and all of Russia. The protestors say they have only just begun. The intention of the still unorganised group is to mobilise in the new year with even greater vigour and direction to deny Putin a third term as President of Russia. Even those now protesting against his being given another term of office, acknowledge that Putin has brought a measure of transformation to Russia. Nevertheless, such commentators say that his eight years as President and four as Prime Minister are long enough and Vladimir Putin needs to move off the stage. Interestingly, the United States and Europe are yet to make significant commentary on the building protests in Moscow. Those countries have to be careful as such dissatisfaction with governance is also occurring in London, New York and European capitals. While there are some locally who must view the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement as an opportunity for political change in T&T and the region, the objective reality is that true representative democracy is alive and well in this country, freedom of expression is jealously protected and the proceeds of the country’s energy wealth fairly well distributed.


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